NCT staff member and single parent-to-be, Agota, takes us through her NCT Signature Antenatal course, and her experiences leading up to the birth of her baby.
Facing challenges like gestational diabetes, getting a seat on busy trains in rush hour and deciding which friend to bring with you to an NCT Antenatal class, Agota explains her thoughts and feelings in the final few months of her pregnancy.
As a single mum (to be), joining a group of couples for an antenatal course was a bit nerve wracking. So for my first NCT Signature class, I dragged my friend along (my married friend whose life is complete parenting two naughty sausage dogs, not a baby in sight!).
We awkwardly made our entrance saying hello to a few couples sitting in a circle and quickly headed to the tea station to occupy ourselves. Once tea in hand, we joined the circle as more people arrived. The final couple arriving looked equally nervous, checking out every female to see if we had bumps – just to make sure they were at the right place.
As the class started, our practitioner’s calmness and confidence put me at ease. Thankfully, there were no awful icebreakers, but she did encourage us to have a little chat with the couples next to us. We also had name badges (I still don’t remember any names, maybe next class?) and we did eventually go around quickly introducing ourselves.
The first class mostly covered the stages of labour. There were lots of illustrations and images to look at - or not, if you were squeamish (have you ever seen a placenta? you cannot unsee it).
We also discussed places to give birth at and our teacher had information on most of our hospital facilities, which was really helpful. The class was interactive without being too forced and there was plenty of time for questions and discussions.
The couples in the class seemed really nice too so I am actually looking forward to the next gathering – this time I’m braving it alone!
Pregnancy is a time to slow down, apparently, but I swear, some weeks I have more appointments than I had when I was partying around London in my twenties.
Let’s see last week: 28 weeks growth scan, 28 weeks midwife check-up, my second NCT class and my NHS antenatal class at my chosen hospital plus a meeting with a potential doula. Throw in a Nearly New Sale at my nearby NCT branch, and that’s 6 pregnancy related events in 7 days!
It was a good week though, I got to see my baby, hear his heartbeat, grab some bargains and learn more about pain relief and my hospital. I, of course, managed to embarrass myself on my second antenatal class. Instead of quietly slipping in and blending in with the couples, I managed to miss my train and arrive 15 minutes late.
We also had some homework to do, each of us looking up one form of pain relief, which I quickly did while walking to the class. It was my turn to talk about an epidural as soon as I sat down, so not sure my explanation made much sense. Luckily our lovely teacher took over and made sure we had all the information we needed.
The NHS class that weekend was very different. While the midwife there was brilliant and made some forced attempts to make us into a group of friends, we had so much to go through that there wasn’t much time to get to know one another. On the other hand, I learned a lot about how things work at my chosen hospital so really glad I decided to go and spend my Sunday there.
Holy-moly, I am now 31 weeks and the weekly countdown has turned into single digits! Exhaustion is taking over, and my low-carb low-sugar diet due to my gestational diabetes is not helping.
I was ready to bite the head off that gentleman this morning on the train who pushed me out of the way to grab the last seat in the carriage. Luckily a lovely lady offered her seat so the man was saved!
I am over halfway through my antenatal classes and we're now concentrating on the postnatal period. The last two sessions are probably the most challenging and important. We had a 2.5 hours session on breastfeeding and another class dedicated to birth interventions such as induction and c-section.
The breastfeeding session was brilliant. It wasn’t led by our antenatal teacher, but a specially trained breastfeeding counsellor. I enjoyed seeing the expression change on the men’s face from confusion about why they’re there to amazement when realising how hard work it can be. They especially enjoyed practicing some of the positions, mainly the rugby hold.
Yes, there were baby dolls flying around, not endorsed by our course leader but thoroughly enjoyed by the rest of us!
The class about interventions seemed more challenging to some of the ladies, who were terrified of them. I was impressed by the detail we went into, including a beautiful photo series of a real caesarean birth – although, mind you, not for the faint hearted!
I felt comforted. As much as I am hoping to avoid serious interventions, I am now convinced that I can have a beautiful birth, even if it ends with a c-section.
As soon as you get to the point of looking forward to Thursday evenings to see your new pregnant buddies and learn more about birth and childcare, it’s over. Even if the evening appointments were getting harder to attend as tiredness and exhaustion overtook my life
We had a ladies only session where we had space to ask and talk about all the gory stuff, like bleeding after birth. We also practiced some breathing techniques. It definitely helped us to bond as a group of mums-to-be and I am sure that after the breastfeeding session the partners were relieved that they are not involved in another session dedicated to various bodily fluids. Their bonding happened already, during a Sunday afternoon men-only pub session...
Talking of bonding, you could accuse me for trying too hard. You could accuse me of going as far as falling off my bike in front of one of my new NCT friends so she needed to take me to the hospital!
The accident sadly did happen and I was lucky enough that one of the girls was walking past as I was sitting on the kerb and came with me to the hospital. To cut a long (and scary) story short, all was well, baby unharmed, me slightly bruised and finally realising at 32 weeks pregnant that maybe it was time to give up cycling!
The other moral of the story? How incredibly lucky I am that my NCT course brought people in my life who are near me and care so much.
Our final session was on a gloomy winter evening. By this time we all figured out who lives near who, so rides were arranged. Definitely helps with the late finish!
The last session was about postnatal baby care. It was 2 hours, as every other session, but I wished this was at least double. We went through the basics - changing a nappy, safe sleeping arrangements, how to dress a baby etc. I felt quite sad at the end of the evening. I got used to hanging out with this bunch on a weekly basis. We were all also looking around at each other, feeling like a motherless child, now that we had ‘graduated’.
Are we ready? Do we know everything? Are we ready to let our antenatal teacher’s hand go? I certainly felt much more knowledgeable than before and also much more supported. I know where to turn if I need support. And I now have this group of people, equally nervous and excited about what’s ahead of us.
To be fair, it didn’t take us long to meet again. We managed to all meet up as a group not long after and us ladies squeezed in a lunch, a cake and coffee and a walk in the park before babies started to arrive.
Our WhatsApp group is our safe place, where we sometimes laugh and we sometimes cry, but we're certainly always there for each other.
So how is life post work and pre baby? I’m not going to complain, maternity leave so far has been an absolute bliss. My biggest fear, that I give birth before finishing work or just a few days after did not happen. I had plenty of time to put my feet up.
Of course, you don’t put your feet up. You start nesting. You wash all baby clothes. You take off all the covers from second hand baby items and wash them too. You wake up at 2am frantically ordering another bunch of baby related items online. You unpack and repack your hospital bag a 100 times. You try and meet up with friends for one last uninterrupted conversation.
And then the midwife appointments get more frequent. I also caught up with my doula, we finished my birth plan and finalised all the details of D-Day. Due to my gestational diabetes, I am not allowed to go 4 days over 40 weeks, so I am booked in for an induction on that day. My doula of course gave me tips on how to encourage natural labour - none of these are scientifically proven but we do what we can, right?
And then there was that one day when I worried my baby’s movements were more sluggish than usual. To hell with my hair appointment, I waddled all the way to the hospital and got seen fairly quickly and put onto a monitor. Nope, no movement from the little boy, although just listening to his heartbeat put my mind at ease. The midwife came in with two large glasses of ice cold water. I downed these and as if by magic, the baby perked up and was ready to kick off that monitor!
Reassured, I waddled home, and being over 38 weeks now, baby is fully cooked, so nothing left to do but wait...